A Michigan charter school group is having a more difficult time obtaining approval for a second charter school in Baton Rouge than it did with its first, Inspire Charter Academy, which opened in August 2010.
In a letter Wednesday, David Phillips, East Baton Rouge Parish assistant superintendent for high schools, said National Heritage Academies’ application for a second charter school, which would be known as Empower Charter Academy, should be rejected.
Phillips said in the letter to Superintendent John Dilworth that a 20-member district leadership group — made up of school system administrators — recommended denying the application in part because the new school would be modeled after Inspire, which has had academic difficulties.
After its first year of operation, Inspire earned a school performance score of 64.2, which is an “F” in the state’s new letter grading system.
“While we believe the aforementioned model will foster academic gains in the future, we are not prepared to invest in this replication model at this time,” Phillips wrote in the letter.
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board was sent a copy of the letter. The board will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday as a committee of the whole to consider the Empower Charter Academy application.
If the School Board rejects the application, National Heritage Academies can take its proposal to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Reached by phone Wednesday night, Sister Judith Brun, president of Inspire’s School Board, said she was not aware of the recommendation to deny the application for the new charter school.
“We are ready to go. We have a principal in training who has been with us two years, and we have parents who are crying, going, ‘When do you open? When do you open?’ ” said Brun, who is best known as the former longtime principal of St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge.
Inspire, located at 5454 N. Foster Drive, had 506 students enrolled Wednesday with a maximum capacity of more than 700 students. Empower Charter Academy plans a similar growth, starting with a target enrollment of 480 students in grades kindergarten through fifth. It then plans to add one grade at a time through the eighth grade.
National Heritage Academies plans to locate Empower closer to the center of town. In its application, submitted Aug. 24, supporters of the school said they are considering a site in Mall City at North Ardenwood and Harry drives. Brun said they have a purchase agreement on the property.
In his letter, Phillips said the school system should hold off approving a charter school modeled after Inspire until Inspire has a track record of success, rather than a record he described as “inconclusive.”
Phillips also said that Empower is basically no different than Inspire and charter applications should represent something “new and different.”
Brun said National Heritage Academies uses the same model for all of its schools, and the main innovation is their whole child focus.
“You wouldn’t make the next thing completely different if the first thing is working,” Brun said.
Although Phillips’ letter did not mention the financial cost of charter schools, East Baton Rouge Parish school system’s Finance Department has in the past blamed some of its financial problems — three consecutive years of budget cuts — on the creation and expansion of charter schools.
Brun said that school officials have complained about “legacy costs,” saying that charter schools don’t help cover the cost of teachers’ benefits once they retire. Brun, however, said charter schools should not be saddled with such costs, suggesting that the whole system needs to be revamped.